CU men’s basketball preview: Air Force Falcons
TIPOFF: 4 p.m., Saturday, Clune Arena, Air Force Academy.
BROADCAST: TV — AT&T Sports Net; Radio — 760 AM (740 AM in Colorado Springs).
RECORDS: CU 2-1; Air Force 2-3.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (168-11, 224-177 overall); Air Force — Dave Pilipovich, 7th season (86-107 at Air Force and overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 14.7 ppg, 5.7 apg; F Tyler Bey, So., 10.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg; G Namon Wright, Sr., 13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg. Air Force — G Sid Tomes, Jr., 12.0 ppg, 2.8 apg; F Ryan Swan, Jr., 11.6 ppg; 7.6 rpg; F Lavelle Scottie, Jr., 11.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg.
NOTES: McKinley Wright received a slight mulligan from his five-turnover game Tuesday at San Diego. One of those turnovers charged to Wright was an errant lead pass to Lucas Siewert thrown by Shane Gatling. The scoring change left Wright officially with four turnovers against San Diego, though he has nine over the past two games…With Mark Johnson in California calling the CU-Cal football game, Jerry Schemmel will pinch-hit on the radio broadcast alongside Scott Wilke…CU leads the series against AFA 24-3, with wins in the past eight meetings…Only two current Buffs players — Siewert and fellow junior Deleon Brown — played in CU’s last visit to Air Force, a 75-68 win two years ago. Siewert went scoreless but Brown went 3-for-6 from the floor and 4-for-6 at the free throw line for 10 points. It remains one of just six double-digit scoring games for Brown in two-plus seasons…The Buffs play their next four games at home, beginning Wednesday against Portland (7 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain).
There were aspects that were encouraging for the Colorado men’s basketball team during Tuesday’s loss at San Diego.
But, in the end, the Buffaloes’ attention to detail was lacking.
Additionally, Tuesday’s setback continued an alarming trend in road games. Since the Buffs last played in the NCAA Tournament in 2016, the club has gone only 5-20 in true road games, and while CU expects to start getting right in that department in Saturday’s nonconference date at Air Force, coach Tad Boyle is hoping to stop the bleeding on a couple of early shortcomings for his club before they become glaring deficiencies.
One is a familiar foe in turnovers. The other is rebounding, after CU surrendered 15 offensive rebounds against the Toreros on Tuesday. Following his review of the game video, Boyle broke those game-changing miscues down to just a few possessions.
“We watched six possessions, I think three in the first half and three in the second,” Boyle said. “In five of those, we gave up 13 points after we got a stop. We played really, really good defense. Contested shots, just what we wanted. But we didn’t get the rebound, and it led to a three or it led to another two. So six possessions, three in the first half and three in the second, 15 points. Ball game.
“That’s the game right there. That’s the difference between 3-0 and 2-1.”
The Buffs’ woes on the glass were magnified by miscues in the final moments of each half. With the game tied at 30 late in the first half, Lucas Siewert mistimed what should have been an easy defensive rebound. Instead San Diego’s Yauhen Massalski converted a putback and added a free throw when a frustrated Siewert committed a foul.
Late in the second half, with the Buffs clinging to a 61-60 lead, CU again forced an errant shot with forward Evan Battey using a solid box-out to clear space in the lane. However, no Buffs player aggressively went after the ball, and another putback by San Diego gave the Toreros the lead for good.
Perhaps even more discouraging than an off-night on the boards was another poor effort on the turnover front by the Buffs. CU committed 14 at San Diego, and in the final tally the Buffs and Toreros were even with nine points apiece off turnovers.
But for a program that has struggled in that department under Boyle in general, and the last few seasons in particular, the early results don’t inspire confidence.
Through three games, CU has committed an average of 14 per game against opponents like Drake, Omaha and San Diego. Last year, a largely identical cast of players that was a year younger averaged 14.1.
“It’s such a fine line. I just want our players to understand the value of every possession,” Boyle said. “I think as a young college basketball player, it’s really difficult to understand that. They think, ‘Oh, we’ll get the next one.’ But you can’t have that mentality. We have to say we can’t allow that to happen again, and then it happens again.
“I can live with the way that we played, in terms of our energy and our effort, the other night against San Diego. I really can. Where we have to get better is our execution and our toughness. We showed toughness in a lot of different ways…but we have to show toughness in every category. And rebounding is where we did not show toughness.”